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Mental Health

We are being lured by the siren song of cynicism. We have to choose a different route.

We are being lured by the siren song of cynicism. We have to choose a different route.
Photo by Inu Etc on Unsplash

We can't let ourselves be lured by the siren song of cynicism.

"Why do people have to suck so badly?" my teen asks me after watching a viral video of horrible human behavior.

I understand the sentiment. I really do. I've asked myself the same question many times in recent years. Why are people like this? What is wrong with people? How can people be so stupid/cruel/selfish/ignorant/etc. And every time I have to pause, reflect and recognize what I'm hearing.

It's the siren song of cynicism. That strangely alluring voice that lulls us into a negative state of complacency at best and abject nihilism at worst.

I see—and feel in myself—cynicism as a natural, reactionary response to the ugly realities of our world, but also to our current digital climate. So much of the discouse we consume is filtered through social media algorithms that reward undernuanced hot takes and keep the cycle of negative sensationalism churning. The bad stuff gets our attention, which prompts people to talk about the bad stuff, which triggers algorithms that push more of the bad stuff, which creates a feedback loop informing us that everything is terrible.


Cynicism seduces us because it's easy. It doesn't actually feel good, but it feels comfortable because it doesn't ask anything from us. Hardened cynics sometimes see themselves as the intellectually honest among us, having real insight into people and problems, but it's simply not true. Cynicism requires no deep digging, real reflection or soul searching. It's the easiest thing in the world to call the world a dumpster fire, toss up our hands and say, "Welp, everything and everyone sucks, so what's the point?"

Hope, on the other hand, is hard. It requires going beyond our impulsive reactions to headlines and soundbites and to enage with humanity holistically. Far from being some kind of unthinking, Pollyanna-ish, head-in-the-sand idealism, I see hope as the natural outcome of truly diving into the reality of human existence.

But how do we get there? How do we ignore the pull of cynicism and navigate toward hope instead?

First, we can look to the past to see how far we have actually come.

I was watching the Olympics the other night and marveling at what human beings have figured out how to do. We started off rubbing sticks together to make fire. Now we have people who can artistically dance around on ice, spin multiple times through the air with the utmost perfection and precision, and land on one foot on a 1/8-inch blade. Not only that, but they do it to beautiful music that humans have composed, with musical instruments humans created, recorded on technological equipment that humans invented.

Not only was I watching this marvel happen, but I was doing so all the way on the other side of the planet, in the comfort of my home, where hot air blows out of the walls, clean water pours out of the refrigerator that keeps our food cold and lights turn on and off with the flick of a finger.

And that's just the basic, everyday life stuff we've figured out. Thinking of all of the ways humans continue to advance and progress is mind-boggling.

Sure, we still separate ourselves into artificial groups and fight over stupid things, but we also have created global organizations that collaborate to do incredible work to solve problems. Yes, our advancements have caused an imbalance in our relationship to the planet, but we also have developed the science to understand and begin to mitigate those impacts. Indeed, people can still be bafflingly ignorant or closed-minded, but we have access to everything that humans have ever learned available at our fingertips. That's incredible.

Our material progress may have outpaced our collective spiritual progress, and our political will to enact workable solutions might be a mess, but there's no reason to believe we won't figure those things out too. Look at all that we've been through and what we've accomplished. We are far more capable than we give ourselves credit for, in all areas.

Second, we can choose the filters with which we view the present.

When we look at the challenges we face and the difficulties in meeting those challenges, do we see a sign that humans are inept or a sign that we're trying to figure things out? Learning and problem-solving are messy, nonlinear processes. Sometimes progress is two steps forward, one step back. Growth involves growing pains, especially when we're actually growing the fastest. Building something new often requires tearing down something old first, and destruction feels like destruction even when it's necessary.

There's also the simple truth that we find what we look for. If we look for what is bad, wrong and unjust in the world, we'll find it. That stuff is there, no question. And some of it definitely needs our attention; ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away. But focusing on the negative all the time is a choice—one that doesn't serve anyone well.

I could easily spend an entire day finding examples of how people are awful, how it seems like we're going backward in some ways, how society is totally messed up and how the future is doomed. (Just spend the day on Twitter. It's all there.) If my goal were to justify a cynical outlook on humanity, I could easily do so.

But I could also spend an entire day finding examples of how humans are amazing, how people come together to help one another, how organizations are solving problems and providing for people's needs, how progress is being made in all fields of human endeavor. If my goal were to justify a hopeful vision for humanity, I could easily do that as well.

Each of those scenarios is a choice. Which day seems like it would lead to a better outcome, either for me personally or for the world at large?

The negative, cynical stuff is constantly in our faces because of how media and social media work, but the positive, constructive stuff is all around us. We need to balance positivity with addressing real problems, but when we put more focus and energy into supporting and amplifying the things we want to see than the things we don't, we steer our ship toward hope.

Finally, we can remember that the future is still unwritten.

One of the hallmarks of cynicism is the sense that nothing changes, that we're going to be stuck in the same stupidity of our own making forever. But none of us has a crystal ball. We don't know what the future holds and how humanity will change through the inevitable ups and downs on the horizon. We couldn't have predicted we'd be here now three years ago, and we don't know what things will look like three years from now.

We can choose to envision a dystopian future—there are plenty of books and movies we can use for inspiration if that's what we want to do. Or we can choose to envision something better or greater than what we have now. Neither is guaranteed in any way, so we do have a choice in the matter.

Any psychologist will tell you that visualization can be a powerful and transformative tool. Just as we see what we look for in the present, we are more likely to create what we envision for the future. That's not to say that we can control everything, but we can decide what direction we try to encourage humanity to go with our lives. When we look forward to a future in which humanity and our planetary home thrive and flourish, we're much more likely to seek out ways to move us in that direction.

Hope is a choice we make daily, in our thoughts and in our actions. Cynicism can sing to us all it wants, but we will hold the wheel steady, look for the light on the horizon and steer that direction instead.

Image from Pixabay.

Under the sea...

True
The Wilderness Society


You're probably familiar with the literary classic "Moby-Dick."

But in case you're not, here's the gist: Moby Dick is the name of a huge albino sperm whale.

(Get your mind outta the gutter.)


There's this dude named Captain Ahab who really really hates the whale, and he goes absolutely bonkers in his quest to hunt and kill it, and then everything is awful and we all die unsatisfied with our shared sad existence and — oops, spoilers!


OK, technically, the narrator Ishmael survives. So it's actually a happy ending (kind of)!

whales, Moby Dick, poaching endangered species

Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Basically, it's a famous book about revenge and obsession that was published back in 1851, and it's really, really long.

It's chock-full of beautiful passages and dense symbolism and deep thematic resonance and all those good things that earned it a top spot in the musty canon of important literature.

There's also a lot of mundane descriptions about the whaling trade as well (like, a lot). That's because it came out back when commercial whaling was still a thing we did.

conservation, ocean water conservation

A non-albino mother and baby sperm whale.

Photo by Gabriel Barathieu/Wikipedia.

In fact, humans used to hunt more than 50,000 whales each year to use for oil, meat, baleen, and oil. (Yes, I wrote oil twice.) Then, in 1946, the International Whaling Commission stepped in and said "Hey, wait a minute, guys. There's only a few handful of these majestic creatures left in the entire world, so maybe we should try to not kill them anymore?"

And even then, commercial whaling was still legal in some parts of the world until as recently as 1986.

International Whaling Commission, harpoons

Tail in the water.

Whale's tail pale ale GIF via GoPro/YouTube

And yet by some miracle, there are whales who were born before "Moby-Dick" was published that are still alive today.

What are the odds of that? Honestly it's hard to calculate since we can't exactly swim up to a bowhead and say, "Hey, how old are you?" and expect a response. (Also that's a rude question — jeez.)

Thanks to some thoughtful collaboration between researchers and traditional Inupiat whalers (who are still allowed to hunt for survival), scientists have used amino acids in the eyes of whales and harpoon fragments lodged in their carcasses to determine the age of these enormous animals — and they found at least three bowhead whales who were living prior to 1850.

Granted those are bowheads, not sperm whales like the fictional Moby Dick, (and none of them are albino, I think), but still. Pretty amazing, huh?

whale blubber, blue whales, extinction

This bowhead is presumably in adolescence, given its apparent underwater moping.

GIF via National Geographic.

This is a particularly remarkable feat considering that the entire species was dwindling near extinction.

Barring these few centenarian leviathans, most of the whales still kickin' it today are between 20 and 70 years old. That's because most whale populations were reduced to 10% or less of their numbers between the 18th and 20th centuries, thanks to a few over-eager hunters (and by a few, I mean all of them).

Today, sperm whales are considered one of the most populous species of massive marine mammals; bowheads, on the other hand, are still in trouble, despite a 20% increase in population since the mid-1980s. Makes those few elderly bowheads that much more impressive, huh?

population, Arctic, Great Australian Blight

Southern Right Whales hangin' with a paddleboarder in the Great Australian Bight.

GIF via Jaimen Hudson.

Unfortunately, just as things are looking up, these wonderful whales are in trouble once again.

We might not need to worry our real-life Captain Ahabs anymore, but our big aquatic buddies are still being threatened by industrialization — namely, from oil drilling in the Arctic and the Great Australian Bight.

In the off-chance that companies like Shell and BP manage not to spill millions of gallons of harmful crude oil into the water, the act of drilling alone is likely to maim or kill millions of animals, and the supposedly-safer sonic blasting will blow out their eardrums or worse.

This influx of industrialization also affects their migratory patterns — threatening not only the humans who depend on them, but also the entire marine ecosystem.

And I mean, c'mon — who would want to hurt this adorable face?

social responsibility, nature, extinction

BOOP.

Image from Pixabay.

Whales might be large and long-living. But they still need our help to survive.

If you want another whale to make it to his two-hundred-and-eleventy-first birthday (which you should because I hear they throw great parties), then sign this petition to protect the waters from Big Oil and other industrial threats.

I guarantee Moby Dick will appreciate it.


This article originally appeared on 11.04.15

National Autistic Society/Youtube

"Diverted" educational video shared through the Too Much Information Campaign.

Everyone who lives with autism experiences it somewhat differently. You'll often hear physicians and advocates refer to the spectrum that exists for those who are autistic, pointing to a wide range of symptoms and skills.

But one thing many autistic people experience is sensory processing issues.


For autistic people, processing the world around them when it comes to sight, smell, or touch can be challenging, as their senses are often over- or under-sensitive. Certain situations — like meandering through a congested mall or enduring the nonstop blasting of police sirens — can quickly become unbearable.

This reality is brought to life in a new video by the U.K.'s National Autistic Society (NAS).

The eye-opening PSA takes viewers into the mind of a autistic woman as she thinks about struggling to stay composed in a crowded, noisy train.

It's worth a watch:

The PSA hit especially close to home for 22-year-old actress and star of the video Saskia Lupin, who is autistic herself. "Overall I feel confused," she said, of abrupt changes to her routine. "Like I can't do anything and all sense of rationality is lost."

She's not alone.

According to a study cited in NAS' press release, 75% of autistic people say unexpected changes make them feel socially isolated. What's more, 67% reported seeing or hearing negative reactions from the public when they try to calm themselves down in such situations — from eyerolls and stares to unwelcome, hurtful comments.

The new PSA aims to improve that last figure in particular.

It's part of the organization's Too Much Information campaign — an initiative to build empathy and understanding in allistic (i.e., not autistic) people for those on the spectrum.

Autism Awareness Day, campaign, World Autism Awareness Week

Campaign by National Autistic Society created to share the autistic experience to the world.

Photo from Pixabay

"It isn't that the public sets out to be judgmental towards autistic people," Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said in a statement in 2016. It's just that, often, the public doesn't "see" the autism.

"They see a 'strange' man pacing back and forth in a shopping center," Lever explained, "or a 'naughty' girl having a tantrum on a bus, and don't know how to respond."

Well, now we do.

Instead of staring, rolling your eyes, or thinking judgmental thoughts about the young person's parents, remember: You have no idea what that stranger on the train is going through.

“We can't make the trains run on time," said Lever. But even the simplest, smallest things — like remembering not to stare and giving a person some space and compassion if they need it — can make a big difference.


This article originally appeared on 03.28.18

Joy

Pet cockatiel is obsessed with singing 'September' by Earth, Wind and Fire

Kiki remembers the 21st night of September ALL. THE. TIME. and it's actually quite impressive.

Representative hoto by Saqib Iqbal Digital on Unsplash

Apparently, "September" is all the rage with cockatiels.

“Do you remember…the 21st night of September?” has been one of the most iconic song openings of the past 45 years, as the R&B hit by Earth, Wind and Fire perpetually serves as a catchy favorite for dance clubs, movie scenes and TikTok clips alike.

However, "September" has also gained wild popularity among an unlikely group—pet cockatiels.


One cockatiel in particular has taken a shining to the song to the point of obsession, to the combined delight and chagrin of his owner. You see, Kiki doesn’t just like listening to the song, he sings and dances to it. Loudly. Over and over. At uncomfortable hours of the morning.

Kiki’s owner has shared multiple examples of her pet bird reveling in his favorite song, and it’s hilarious every time.

Watch:

@kiki.tiel

Send help plz wheres the off button on parrot #fyp #foryou #bird #cockatiel #parrotsoftiktok #birdsoftiktok

"Kiki…it's 7 o'clock in the morning…" Yeah, Kiki does not care. Kiki is feelin' the groove.

This isn't just a one-off and it's also not just a random song. Here we can see that Kiki recognizes it and sings it when his owner plays it. (Just after pooing on her leg—the reality of having a bird, in case these videos make you want one).

@kiki.tiel

Babywipes handy at all hours 🫡 #bird #cockatiel #fyp #foryou #september #parrot

But Kiki doesn't even need anyone else around in order to sing his favorite song. Here he is singing and dancing all by himself when his owner left the room and left her camera running to see what he would do.

@kiki.tiel

Partying without me :( #cockatielsoftiktok #birds #fyp #for you

As cute and hilarious as this is, it surely gets old after a while, right? It's one thing to watch in a video—it's got to be entirely another to hear it all the time at home.

It's also not just a Kiki quirk. Apparently, "September" is a "thing" among cockatiels. Other cockatiels have been known to love it and sing it, though not quite as well as Kiki does.

Someone on Reddit asked why so many cockatiels love the song—one person even said it was basically the cockatiel national anthem at this point. No one knows exactly why, but this explanation by Reddit user nattiecakes is as good an explanation as any:

"Yeah, cockatiels genuinely like the song in a way they don’t universally take to many other songs. My cockatiel is 17 and early in life basically seemed to max out his harddrive space learning a little bit of La Cucaracha, The Flintstones theme, the phrase 'pretty bird,' and this horrible alarm clock sound that is similar to the hungry baby cockatiel sound. We thought we could not get him to learn anything else because they do have some limits.

Then 'September' came. Every cockatiel loved it. We decided to see if our cockatiel loved it.

I sh*t y’all not, within a DAY he whistled the first three notes, which is really all that matters. He hasn’t been able to learn more, but he loves it.

Now our African grey whistles it to him constantly. He used to reliably whistle La Cucaracha to our cockatiel when our cockatiel would get angry and upset, and our cockatiel would start singing instead and forget he’d been upset. But almost immediately our grey switched to using 'September' 90% of the time. Like, it’s so plain even to our grey that 'September' is the song to unlock a cockatiel’s better nature. I think the grey likes it a lot too, but he has many other songs he likes better.

As for why cockatiels like this song so much… all I can guess is it really resonates with their cheery vibe. I think the inside of a cockatiel’s mind is usually like a disco."

Rock on, Kiki. Just maybe not so early in the morning.

How to clear a stuffy nose instantly.

With cold season upon us, there's no better time to learn a couple of awesome and easy tricks that will clear up the dreaded and annoying stuffy nose.

Prevention magazine created a short video showing two easy ways to get you breathing free again no matter how stuffed up you might be.


Both tricks take less than two minutes and are certainly worth trying out when it feels like that runny nose might never go away.


Watch the YouTube video below:

This article first appeared on 9.8.17.

Pop Culture

A brave fan asks Patrick Stewart a question he doesn't usually get and is given a beautiful answer

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through.

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through. However, how he answered this vulnerable and brave fan's question is one of the most eloquent, passionate responses about domestic violence I've ever seen.



WARNING: At 2:40, he's going to break your heart a little.

You can read more about Heather Skye's hug with Captain Picard at her blog.


This article originally appeared on 06.26.13.